Thursday, December 16, 2010

We are who we are

My parents visited for Thanksgiving. It was good to see them, though somewhat fraught with old baggage and expectations. You know how it is, those patterns are established when you're young and you spend the rest of your life struggling to break free from them.

While here, my mother reminded me of how when I was a child, if I ate something I particularly loved, I would  dance and make yummy noises, humming while I chewed. She said this right after I took a particularly delectable bite of turkey and had closed my eyes and was, yes, making yummy noises while wiggling a little. She was delighted. I was mortified. I am 43, not four.

She's right. I am still who I was when I was a child. Even if I changed my name, my appearance, my locale, some things about me would be constant. As I've been thinking about this, it gives me comfort.

I was thinking about it prior to my parent's visit when I was going through a box of old papers they had saved for years and now have given to me. It's the kind of stuff parents save - report cards, the drawings that lived on the fridge, that kind of stuff. Most of it is honestly of little value to me, but I did find my first and second grade notebooks.

In looking through them I learned this about myself:
  • I have always asked questions and gone in directions teachers found distracting
  • I have always had terrible handwriting (the notebooks are full of teacher's comments, asking me to write more clearly)
  • and I have always had a far-too active imagination.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot escape ourselves and this is sometimes a good thing. Our childhood selves can give us gifts of imagination, of unrepentant pleasure and of hope. When we remember what was best about ourselves in our innocence we find it still lives within us, even if it is sometimes a little embarrassing, in these adult bodies. I would still like to be a raddit rabbit some days. I certainly love imagining what it might be like.

I am who I am. We are who we are.  Popeye was onto something.

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We still miss you

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Oddservations: Life through a lens

I've been away due to NaNoWriMo. I finished by the skin of my teeth, writing just over 50,000 words in November, a collection of the stories I've been telling for the last umpteen years. As I launch back into my blogging life I thought I would start with some images that I've caught over the last few months.

road to nowhere

road to somewhere

road to somewhere better

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One year ago today

My friend and mentor, Brother Blue, died a year ago today. I'm not really sure what to say, beyond this:

Blue, I miss you.

Thank you for the gift of your stories, of your spirit, of your willingness to be a fool for story and love and life. Thank you for your bravery in the face of unbearable and unspoken odds. Thank you for remembering over and over and over again to be kind when it would have been so easy to be cruel.

Thank you so much for every gift you gave us, the recognized gifts and the unrecognized. Thank you for loving me when I felt unlovable, being honest with me and reminding me to be who I am even when it seems impossible.

Thank you for teaching us so much about love. Thank you for showing us what enduring love looks like.

The night you died I looked at the love of my own life and said to him, "We are so lucky." Even as I cried and continue to cry I know how lucky I am to have had you in my life, to have had you call me your baby girl, to have had the gift of your presence for so many years.

We are all so lucky to have had you. Thank you.

I will love you forever and ever and ever, aaahhhhh....

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ethics of storytelling - organizers

Last week I introduced a new series of blogposts about the ethics of storytelling. We examined the ethics of storytelling from the storyteller's point of view. This week we'll take a look at the ethics of storytelling from the organizer's perspective. As before, these opinions are solely my own and do not represent those of any organization.

For the purposes of this post, organizers are those who put together storytelling events, series, run or work for organizations that promote storytelling or organizations that hire storytellers. Organizers are wonderful. We could not do the work we do without them. Whether it's someone who runs an advocacy organization, organizes an open mic, or decides to hire a storyteller for their corporate event, organizing is hard and often thankless work. Thank you.

Organizers have a lot of things to juggle as they do their work, so I will try to keep this post brief. Here are some ethical questions and considerations they may want to take into account. These issues become ethical when considered in the broader realm of promoting the arts (especially storytelling) and creating a good experience for all involved.

Ethical considerations when hiring and working with storytellers
  • Are you hiring the right teller for audience? Your cousin's best friend may be a wonderful storyteller, but are they skilled at the kinds of stories that would be appropriate for your audience? Does your potential teller have experience telling for the kind of people they will be telling to? Should someone who only tells to small children be hired to tell at a business dinner? Should someone who only tells to adults be hired to tell to pre-schoolers?
  • Is this the right audience for a storyteller? I'm delighted that you want to hire a storyteller. That being said, will your audience be able to give the storyteller the attention they deserve? If you aren't sure, let the teller know ahead of time that there may be some distractions, so they can prepare appropriately.
  • Financial considerations Are you paying the teller a living wage? Remember, the 45 minute performance reflects hours of work. If you can't afford what they're asking for, try negotiating and offering them something additional in return - services, goods, etc.
  • Care and feeding of storytellers If you're feeding and housing your teller, have you asked about allergies or other special needs?
  • Sound Do you have a sound system for your teller? If not, have you let them know so they can plan accordingly? 
  • MCing the event A good introduction tells the audience that you care about the event. A distracted, careless MC can start a teller off on an awkward note. Make sure you can pronounce their name. Likewise, if you (or the teachers in the classroom or the organizers in the background) are disengaged it tells the audience that it's okay to ignore the performer. If you are engaged your audience will be more engaged too.
Promoting events
  • Due diligence Have you sent out a press release, let your community know and done what you can to ensure an audience? Even if this is a private event, letting the local press know that a private event is hiring a storyteller helps raise general awareness of storytelling and is a nice bump for the artist. 
  • Ask the teller to help Most storytellers will be glad to let their mailing list know about public events. Make sure you give them appropriate details well in advance so they can promote themselves.
Advocates and organizers
  • Are you presenting a good public face for storytelling? As a storytelling advocate you become a public face for storytelling. Do you remember to say nice things about everyone else in public? Of course you get tired and some people annoy you, but publicly we need to help each other out. As Norah Dooley, founder of massmouth says, "A rising tide floats all boats."
  • Are you the right person for every gig? As an advocate and a public figure you may get gig offers that are tempting, but not in your area of expertise. Are you referring them to other tellers who may be able to do a better job and thus represent our art as a whole more effectively? This was discussed in detail in the ethics of the teller post.
  • Are you asking for help? Advocacy and organizing work can be overwhelming. If you are overwhelmed can you share the load? You'd be surprised how often people may think you have everything under control and so forget to ask if you need help.
  • What are your goals as an advocate/organizer? Do you know? It helps if you know why you're doing the work you're doing. It means you can say no more easily, say yes and work more effectively. Massmouth's mission is "promoting the timeless art of storytelling through social Media, education and live performance" so everything this organizations does is to that end. What are your ends?
  • Does your organization have a code of conduct? If it does, are you following it? Many non-profits have codes of conduct that dictate how you can benefit personally from your advocacy work. This helps avoid conflict of interest. If your organization doesn't have one, consider developing one - many granting agencies look for conflict of interest policies. If your organization does have one and you are in a position to be bound by it, follow it. You'll still be able to get work and advocate for your cause.
As before, the opinions expressed herein are mine and do not reflect those of any agency or organization. I hope this is a starting point for conversation. I'd love to hear what you think!

(c) 2010 Laura S. Packer
Creative Commons License

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A birthday list

Today is my birthday. I am an utter fool for birthdays, believing that it's important to move through the world with joy, so taking one day a year to celebrate your own existence is a worthwhile endeavor.

This year, as in other years, on my birthday I'm writing a list of things I am grateful for, one for each year of my life. This year I was moved towards a simpler list, though I think it is no less meaningful; this may be in part because I didn't want to repeat myself too much as those previous lists are still quite valid. In any case, I hope some of these resonate with you.

Thank you world.

  1. Love. The opportunity to love and be loved.
  2. And like! Distinct and important.
  3. And dislike too - the chance to be an adult and work it through.
  4. Mistakes. The chance to try again.
  5. Taking the last walk with Brother Blue.
  6. The sound of wind in trees.
  7. The scent of the ocean.
  8. The taste and comfort of Red Label tea with milk and honey.
  9. The feel of my lover's skin. 
  10. Hugging and being hugged.
  11. The myriad shapes of clouds.
  12. Writing. 
  13. Reading.
  14. Music. 
  15. Especially the Beatles.
  16. The occasional wisdom to take the next breath.
  17. Kind strangers.
  18. Overheard conversations.
  19. Trees. And other plants, fungi, lichens. The slow, growing things of the world.
  20. Animals. Mammals, fish, insects, all living things. Even mosquitoes who have their place in the world.
  21. Good cries.
  22. Well-told stories. Both hearing and telling.
  23. Museums and the arts in general.
  24. Being heard.
  25. Wild acts of hope and guerrilla art.
  26. Wild places that I will never see.
  27. Languages I will never know.
  28. Laughing until I can't breath.
  29. The opportunity to help others.
  30. Working at a problem until I solve it.
  31. Or until I ask for help.
  32. Forgiveness.
  33. Creativity and creation. 
  34. Trying and failing and trying again.
  35. Work. Financial security.
  36. Completing things.
  37. My home. 
  38. Playing. Kites. Toys. 
  39. Cooking.
  40. Naps.
  41. The sound of my own breath - at night, underwater through SCUBA, in this moment.
  42. My body.
  43. Life. I am so grateful for this life.
And one for the years to come - I am grateful for you, for the connections I have in this world. Thank you.

Oh, and yes, the little girl at the top of this post is me. I don't know, have I changed that much?

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ethics of storytelling - the teller

crossposted from massmouth

As storytelling becomes a more established and accepted art form, it’s worth considering some of the ethics around storytelling, just as it's worth thinking about the ethics in any undertaking. This post will explore the ethics of storytelling from the teller’s point of view. The opinions contained herein are wholly those of the writer and not endorsed by any organization.

Storytellers love to tell stories. Standing in front of an audience and telling is a rush like no other. Most of us remember our obligation as performers to practice our work and choose stories that we believe are appropriate to our audiences; we don’t want to embarrass ourselves, we don't want to tell something that would prevent a repeat performance. While I believe that most of us strive to make choices that don't hurt other tellers, I think there some ethical considerations about what we tell, how we tell, what gigs we accept and the financials that are worth looking at. Each of the following questions becomes an ethical consideration in the light of the larger storytelling community. Your individual choices and actions have an impact on the rest of us and how the world views our art and its worth. We are a network of artists; we may have different levels of experience and skill but we are still representing a larger whole. We can help each other by taking these factors into account.

  • Are you the right storyteller for the audience? Do you ever say “no” to a gig? Would you ever recommend another teller other than yourself because they are a better fit? While financial realities and the desire to perform may encourage us to accept every gig we're offered, sometimes we may just not be the right teller for a gig. If you have no stories appropriate for a pre-school audience, would you consider recommending someone else who does? What if you have no stories for an adult audience looking for the history of a particular area? While you could certainly develop something, is it more responsible to recommend a teller who you know excels in that particular genre?
  • Do you craft your sets for the audience? Do you take the time to learn something about the audience ahead of time? What are the lingering notes they will leave with? Each audience is unique. If you learn a little about them ahead of time you can tweak your set to their particular interests. If you end your set with a strong piece they will walk away wowed by they whole storytelling experience, feeling as though they were special, that you took the time to create a special experience just for them, and they will be more likely to want to come to another storytelling performance.
  • Are you leaving the audience with a good feeling about storytellers? Will they want to come to other storytelling events? Do you let them know about other events and organizations that are not personal PR? Let them know about local events and organizations so they can find out about other events. We grow our audiences by being generous with our resources.
Story/Art form
  • Do you work on your craft? Are you striving for excellence? Bill Harley's excellent keynote at Sharing the Fire 2010 raised many good points about honing our craft. I've written further about storytelling excellence in these three posts. When you perform in front of the public and are the best storyteller you can be, you are representing all of us as professional artists, worthy of respect. If you are sloppy and unprofessional it reflects badly on all of us. While we all have bad days, we can minimize the likelihood of that happening by working on what we do with the diligence of any artist.
Other tellers and organizers
  • Are you easy to work with? Will the person who hired you have a good feeling about storytellers in general or will they think we are prima donnas? Professionalism and civility go a long way in building a reputation. A harried librarian, teacher or event organizer may not have time to worry about every detail. If you can be polite and friendly, with reasonable expectations, you leave them with a sense that storytellers are nice people and they may be more likely to hire a storyteller next time.
  • Did you charge appropriately for the gig? If you reduced your rates because it was a non-profit or underfunded group, did you document this appropriately? If you undercharge you create an expectation that storytellers are cheap and that the many hours of preparation we put into our sets aren’t worth paying for. It can be hard figuring out what to charge, so if you don't know, ask a more experienced storyteller in your region. If you're afraid you won't get work by charging a reasonable rate, you can always negotiate, but start from a position of "my time, talent and work are worthwhile." Talk to your tax professional to determine how best to document reduced rates, but do document them. This means the organization knows they got a special deal, so if another teller can't offer them the same reduced rate they won't be surprised, and it may have tax benefits for you. Remember, if you undercharge other tellers, you may get more work, but you hurt the community as a whole and you create the expectation that our work is worth less. 
  • Did you publicize the event? Even if someone didn’t come, if they knew there was a storytelling event that increases the general awareness of storytelling as an art form. Good publicity means the next time there's a storytelling event someone may go to it because it will seem less alien. Publicity over time builds audiences. You want the public to know your name and the art of storytelling. 
These ethical considerations for the teller are all ways the individual can impact the growing network of storytellers. Your actions matter. I'd love to know what you think of these points - remember, this is intended to be a starting point for conversation, not a rigid declaration.

Next week I'll look at the ethics of the organizer. 

Creative Commons License

Monday, October 25, 2010

The ethics of storytelling - Introduction

crossposted from massmouth

Storytelling is a very powerful medium. Standing in front of an audience and creating a world for them merely from words and gestures can create a connection that reaches back through our ancestral memories. When we hear a well-told story we are persuaded, moved, remade.

Because of this power, and like any art, there are ethical considerations in storytelling. As storytelling becomes a more integrated and well-known art form, thanks to the efforts of massmouth, LANES, NSN and other advocacy groups and hard-working individuals, it’s worth thinking about how we tell, hire and hear stories within ethical boundaries. Over the next few posts I’ll explore my thoughts on the ethics of storytelling. These posts do not reflect the stance of any other organization; I hope they are a starting point for conversation.

I’m breaking these posts down into three realms of discussion – the ethics of the teller (obligations to audience, story/artform and other tellers); the ethics of the organizer (obligations to audience, teller and community); and the ethics of the audience (obligations to self, teller and the art form). I’m sure there are other ways to break this down, it’s just what makes sense to me. I'll post the ethics of the teller tomorrow and will then post the others weekly.

I hope these posts are a starting point for a conversation, I hope you find this of interest and worth discussing. I’d love to know what you think. 

(c) 2010 Laura S. Packer
Creative Commons License

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Working class hero

Today is John Lennon's 70th birthday. Or it would have been, had he not been killed shortly after his 40th birthday. I am now older than John was when he died, which is an unsettling milestone.

If you know me for more than a little while, then you know I love The Beatles. I have a deep and personal relationship with each of them, just as millions do around the world. They kept me going during some of my darkest times, became a voice of reason when all the other voices I could imagine were urging me towards madness. They were and are among the loves of my life. If this seems silly to you, then I'm both sorry for you and envious; clearly you never loved fiercely what you knew was unattainable, clearly you never needed to.

While each Beatle holds meaning for me, John and George where my favorites. John gave me something to strive for. He helped me understand that it was okay to be smart. He showed me that a passion for social justice was nothing to hide. He helped me understand that speaking out was a worthwhile risk. Lennon certainly was no angel, any biography is full of his flaws, but his public persona was one that urged me to live better. To live larger. To be less afraid of standing up for what I knew was right even if it made me look foolish. He was willing to imagine a better, kinder world and to try to find a way to make it come true.

We need public figures who show this kind of fearlessness and willingness to risk. Lennon was among the first of many teachers in my life who urged me to be a fool for what I believe in. I will always be grateful. I still miss John, but hope that I have learned something from him. I know I'm not the only one.


Imagine there's no Heaven 
It's easy if you try 
No hell below us 
Above us only sky 
Imagine all the people 
Living for today 

Imagine there's no countries 
It isn't hard to do 
Nothing to kill or die for 
And no religion too 
Imagine all the people 
Living life in peace 

You may say that I'm a dreamer 
But I'm not the only one 
I hope someday you'll join us 
And the world will be as one 

Imagine no possessions 
I wonder if you can 
No need for greed or hunger 
A brotherhood of man 
Imagine all the people 
Sharing all the world 

You may say that I'm a dreamer 
But I'm not the only one 
I hope someday you'll join us 
And the world will live as one 

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer
storyteller, writer, real-time dreamer Creative Commons License

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fiction: Camaro, Part 2

Continued from last week

But sometimes they haunt you anyway, whether or not you want them to. He just couldn’t stop thinking about it, about her, about wishes. He got up every day and went to work, every day drove his car. And every day he wondered, “What do I want?”

Sometimes he thought he would wish for wealth, but then thought if it was unearned, trouble would come with it. He’d read those stories about djinnis when he was a kid and knew that these things often had strings attached and he didn’t want to be stupid about it, no matter what she said.

Other times he thought he’d wish for fame, be a big time rapper or rock and roll star, but then he remembered what happened to so many of those people. Maybe it wasn’t such a good wish after all. Maybe they’d wished themselves there and that’s why they’d turned out the way they did. Besides, he didn’t really have any talent to begin with.

And then he thought he’d wish for world peace, but then it occurred to him there were far too many ways a djinni could play with that one. What if everyone just disappeared and he was all that was left? Wasn’t that an episode of some old tv show or another? Anyway, it didn’t seem like a good idea.

When he took his friends out for drives he told them the glove box was jammed, they shouldn’t bother messing with it. That way he didn’t have to explain any of it. It was just easier to keep it locked, easier that way all around.

He still loved the car but soon, every time he looked at it, instead of that almost sexual thrill, he’d think of her. And he’d think of wishes. And he’d ask himself, “What do I want?” Each time he had to admit that he just didn’t know.

Finally he decided he could try something. After work, a long day of spilled oil and dropped wrenches, his boss yelling at him for being a total fuck-up, he drove away from the lights of Main Street and parked behind the supermarket. The lights were dim here and the cops wouldn’t patrol until later. The distant whiff of the dumpster barely registered over the smell of exhaust and oil and gasoline that he had come to love.

He felt like a fool as he reached over to unlock the glove box and pop the button, but at least, if this had all been in his imagination, he would be an unobserved fool. A thin rope of smoke trickled out of the glove box and she was there. No pop or snap, she just appeared in the passenger seat, as calm as can be, examining her fingernails. She put her hands down.

“Well kid, it’s taken you long enough. What do you want?”

He felt the back of his neck tense up the way it did whenever his mother nagged at him about his room or his life.

“I’m not sure, but I thought maybe –“

“Look, kid, if you don’t know then don’t bother me.” She looked out the passenger window with a sigh.

He looked at her. She was incredibly irritating, thinking she knew everything. Just because she was djinni and he was some 19-year-old kid didn’t mean she had to treat him like that. She shifted, the seat creaked under her as the light played over the planes of her face.

Still, for all that she was a pain, she was cute. And he was 19.

“Okay, look, I’ve got it. I know what I want.”

She looked at him, skepticism playing across her mouth.

He lowered his voice, making it as husky as he could without coughing. He’d heard actors with voices like this and knew it was a sexy sound. He hoped his voice wouldn’t crack in the middle, as he said slowly, “You. I want you.”

For a moment it seemed as though she stopped breathing and for a moment he thought that was a good sign.

“Are you kidding? I mean, kid, you could wish for anything, money, girls – hear that? Girlsssss? Or boysssss? Drugs, power? Anything! And you’re saying me? Come on…”

He pulled back as though she’d struck him.

“You asked what I wanted and I’m telling you. You. I want you!” His voice no longer had that sexy, husky tone.

“Alright.” He tried to think she wasn’t trying not to laugh. “Let’s go.”

“I mean, not like. I meant…”

“You said you wanted me. You didn’t ask for romance.”

Afterwards, when it was over far more quickly than he would have wanted to admit, she vanished with that snap. He found himself half on the passenger side of the car, trying to pull his pants up, hoping no one would come by, hoping there were no security camera, thinking that this wasn’t what he meant at all.

He drove home and tried not to think about wishes for a very long time.

His life continued as it always had, at least on the surface. He worked. He talked with friends. He drove his car.

He did not think about wishes.

This last was a lie, of course, he could barely think of anything else. Every day he came up with a new wish, every day he realized it wasn’t what he really wanted. Girls. No, because then it wasn’t real love and he already figured out that feeling wasn’t what he wanted. Money. Sure it would be nice, but if he was having this much trouble coming up with a wish, what would he spend the money on? Immortality. That seemed like asking for trouble somehow. He had no enemies to wish against, he had vague plans but nothing formed, he just didn’t know.

That was the problem. He didn’t know. He was 19 and he didn’t know who he wanted to be yet, he hardly knew who he was right now.

It got so he couldn’t sleep much anymore. His mother kept asking him what was wrong, his friend kept bugging him about the car and really all he wanted was to be left alone. That seemed like a waste of a wish and something even a beginner djinni could change into something awful. But that wish… that one last wish was eating into him like a cancer.

Finally one night after work he decided to go for a drive. He got in the car and drove down the main streets he’d known his whole life, passing the stores that never seemed to change, that seemed to have the same pencils and books, clothing and games from his childhood. He passed the barbershop where his father had taken him for his first haircut. He remembered the fear in his gut was colder than then steel that brushed his ears. He passed the restaurant where his mother would take him when she brought him with her to work, the place where he always got bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, a forbidden treat at home. He passed his whole life in a few well lit blocks.

He turned the car, still marveling at the pull of the wheel under his hands even after these weeks of owning her, onto the state highway. The traffic was faster here and he barely had time to notice the fast food place he and his friends used to hang out at after school before graduation. He’d tell his mother he was going to the library, but he’d go eat hamburgers and milkshakes instead. The grass he mowed to earn his play money probably tasted better than that shit, but he didn’t care, he was with his friends, flirting with girls, thinking he was so grown up. All of that came crashing to a halt when his grades dropped, but he remembered the certainty of knowing who he was and where he was going as he ran across fields and construction lots to meet the people who mattered most in the world. He hadn’t talked to any of them since graduation it seemed. They’d gone to college or moved away or gotten real jobs. But here he was, in his Camaro, watching the highway on-ramp slide up under him.

For a while the highway took his mind of wishes and the past, cars pulling up beside him and honking, some trying to get him to race. Soon enough, though, he was leaving the city behind. The sky was fading from sherbert night clouds to darkness. Ahead he could see gaps of sky. He drove in the middle lane, letting the engine stretch out. There was no need to prove anything here, he was just driving by himself, watching the hyphens of white paint appear and disappear, appear and disappear, in the white light headlight.

When he’d driven farther than he ever had alone he let the car coast off an exit ramp. The curve of the ramp pulled them along so easily he scarcely had to drive.

Soon enough he was on a secondary road, fields on either side of him and the black star-laden night filling the windshield. He pulled the car over, turned off the engine and listened to it tick tick tick itself into silence. With a breath he leaned over and opened the glove box. And there she was.

“Alright kid, it’s been long enough. What do you want?” She checked her nails, not even looking at him.

He looked at his hands in his lap. “I don’t know.”

Twisting in her seat she said “You don’t know? So what did you call me out for? Don’t you think I have better things to do? You think I spend all my time hanging around in your glove box thinking about you and your driving? Which, I might add, is pretty sketchy sometimes. You’d think you could remember that this car is much older than you are.”

“No,” he said, looking at her, “I don’t know. And I don’t think you spend all your time waiting for me. But listen, I have an idea.”

“Great, you called me out here for an idea. I feel so much better.”

“Please! Just listen. I need you to help me.”

She paused in her sighing and fidgeting.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean… I mean, I’m 19, you know? I don’t know what I want. I don’t know who I am yet. But… I think you’ve been in this business of giving people what they want for a long time. No offense, Miss. But I bet you’re pretty good at it, you know? And what I think I want is this. I think I want you to give me whatever you think will make me happiest. No tricks or anything, just whatever you think I truly want.”

The silence in the car stretched out, an awkward thing.

“Kid, are you serious? That’s a huge responsibility, a huge thing to give someone. You don’t know me. Frankly, I haven’t been very nice to you. What makes you think I could help you?”

“Lady, I don’t know you. I don’t know me. I do know you know something about wishes. More than I do anyway. And I know I can’t stand this anymore. I’d rather trust you and see what happens.”

“Kid, are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

She looked out of the windshield into the infinity of stars, then sighed. “Okay. Okay. I’ll do it. No tricks.”

“Thank you,” he said. He opened the driver’s side door and, without looking to see if she was still there, tossed the keys onto the seat. He began the walk back towards home.

It’s been years now. He doesn’t have the skinny body of a 19 year old, but the smile remembers the young man’s face. It’s the end of the day and he’s standing alone in the open bay of his garage, wiping grease off a wrench after sending his employees home. He’s looking out at the long light of the afternoon, watching the world pass by, when he sees an old car, a 1969 Camaro, drive down the street.

“Hmm,” he thinks. “I used to have one of those. I wonder whatever happened to it. She sure is a beaut though.” The car turns and drives down the street towards his garage, then parks and a young woman gets out.

“She’s kinda cute,” he thinks, “When I was young I would have gone for her, but not now.”

She walks into the garage. “Hey. You still open?”

“I’m still here. How can I help you?”

“I need an oil change. You mind?”

“Nah. Drive her over here, I’ll guide you onto the lift.” She gets back into the car and easily brings the car into place. The girl can drive. They both watch the car rise into the air, the wheels relax and dangle.

Underneath, he feels the familiar resistance then give as he loosens the bolt then watches the oil start to ribbon out of the oil pan.

“Hey,” she says, “is this your family?”

“Yeah, my wife and two girls. They’re the whole world to me, you know? One wants to be a racecar driver, the other wants to be a ballerina. Who knows what it will be next week.”

“You been here long?”

“Long enough. I got a couple of guys working with me. We get to take care of people, you know? It’s a good business. I like working with my hands, I like cars. I used to have a car like this when I was young. It’s a young man’s car, now I need something a little more practical.”

He can hear her smiling. “I love it,” she says. “It was a gift from a friend.”

He brings the car down on the lift, changes the oil filter and fills the Camaro up with oil.

She pays, then turns and pauses, looking at him. After a moment she asks, “Are you happy? Do you like your life?”

“Like my life? Lady, this is everything I’ve ever wanted.”

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, October 4, 2010

Some handy storytelling links

crossposted from massmouth

This list of links is entirely subjective - it's a set of resources I find useful and return to. It's by no means comprehensive. I urge you to explore the link lists with these sites and find more - post your discoveries here!

Story indices
Storytelling resources from storytellers

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oddservations: Life through a lens

Last week I told you that I've taken to wandering the world with my camera and posted three photos that had a common theme. I'm going to continue posting photos on Sundays for the next several weeks. Enjoy!

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fiction: Camaro, Part 1

He was 19. And who knows who they want to be when they’re 19? It’s hard, you know? The whole world seemed like it was telling him, “Be this, do that,” and all he really wanted was to be left alone. He knew he’d figure it out given enough time, he just didn’t know what enough time was.

He knew that for right now his life was kind of a stereotype but he figured that’s what stereotypes were for, to give you something to hide behind while you figured out what you wanted to be next. Sure, he lived in his parent’s basement and drove his mother’s car, but at least he graduated from high school and had a job. That was more than some of his friends did anyway. He liked his job, even if his parents kept telling him it was a dead end and he should go to college. It was good work and the pay wasn’t too bad. He worked in one of those Quikie Lube places, doing ten-minute oil changes, you know the kind, $19.99 special and car wash thrown in for good measure. He liked it because he liked cars, liked working with his hands, liked starting a job and finishing it, all in one go. And, come on, he was 19, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Who really does at that age?

For now? For now it worked. He would get up, go to work, come home, hang out with his friends… it wasn’t much of a life but it was enough until his real life found him.

So, it was a day just like any other. He was driving his mother’s car, that made it a little different maybe, usually she wouldn’t let him take her car, insisted she on driving him so he felt like a baby. When he drove his mother’s car he was never sure if he should slump down and hide (it was only a station wagon) or if he should sit up and grin (hell he was driving something, better than most of his friends anyway) and at least he wasn’t on the bus. He was saving up for his own car, had a box of money under the bed but it wasn’t enough for anything more than a shitbox and, well, anyway, she let him take her car that day. As he drove he slumped down low in the seat hoping no one would see him in that piece of crap when he slowed down, nearly stopping in the middle of the street. It was beautiful. Sleek. Sex-on-wheels. And the sign said, “For Sale.” Not that he could ever afford a pristine 1969 black Camaro, but oh god, he just had to look, anyone would, so he pulled his mother’s clunker over and went to investigate.

It - she - was impeccable. Her curves were the best kind of geometry, the kind he could have passed without even trying, no neat to study or cheat. Her paint was flawless, as smooth and elemental as obsidian. Her tires looked as though they would grip the ground like fingers clutching skin and her upholstery was incomparable, no cigarette burns, no pulls, no wear, as though no one had ever marred her with their weight. She was perfect.

He walked around her in a daze, his fingers tracing the seams of her hood, pulling at her lines as though he was undressing her. She was still warm from the sunlight that had played over her skin. He was so enamored that he didn’t hear her owner walk up behind him until he called out, “She’s something, isn’t she kid?”

He jumped back, as though touching the car were somehow sinful, nodded, “Yeah. I’ve always loved these babies. She’s a dream.” He crossed his arms, trying to look cool.

The man watched him look at the car, shifted his toothpick from cheek to cheek.

“You wanna take her out for a spin?”

He looked at the man, took a breath so his voice wouldn’t shake, then said, “Sure, I’ll just try her out. Can’t hurt to see what she can do.” He gave the man the keys to his mother’s car and – as if it were a fair trade – the man gave him the keys to the Camaro.

The door opened easily, swinging shut behind him without a creak and closing with a solid thump, letting him know he was encased in the best kind of engineering. The bucket seat cradled him and he leaned back for a moment, feeling the warmth of the car around him. The key slid into the lock so organically that he didn’t even think about it and with one, two pumps of the gas pedal, she roared into life.

The engine purred underneath him, just a little uneven so he’d know she was a force to be reckoned with, the steering wheel shuddering just a little in his hands. He barely had to think about shifting her into gear and he eased the car out of the driveway, onto the street.

He drove her around the block. That’s all it took for him to know that this would be one of the great lost loves of his life, because there was no way, no way, he could afford this car, and man, was she sweet. The engine rumbled like it was singing to him and he could feel all of the contained power underneath his feet, just waiting for him to say, “Yes.” No way he could afford this car, but this little taste at least, maybe it was better than nothing. Or maybe it would have been better to have never known.

He brought her back to the man’s house, pulled it into the drive and tucked the "For Sale" sign back onto the dash.

“Well kid? Whaddya think?”

“Like I said, she’s a dream, mister.” He paused, then thought what the hell. “How much do you want for her?” His casual tone tasted like a lie.

The man shifted his toothpick to the other side of his mouth, looked at the kid for a moment, and named his price.

He froze. It was just a little less than what was in his box under the bed, a little less than his shitbox fund, exactly the right price for him to buy this dream of a car and still have enough for registration and all the paperwork that he knew he’d have to do. He thought he felt his heart stop for a moment.

“I think I could do that,” he said, trying to sound calm. “You mind holding her for me while I go home and get your money? I mean, you won’t sell her out from under me or anything?”

The man half-laughed. “Kid, I remember being your age. Everyone needs a break. Let’s shake on it. Now go home, she’ll be waiting for you when you get back.”

If he thought about it later he would have sworn his feet never touched the ground as he flew back to his mother’s car and rushed home. He was lucky the local cops were looking the other way as he ignored all the advice his father and driving instructors had given him. Thank god no one was home to ask him questions about his hurry or the brown paper bundle he ran out clutching.

As he drove back to the man’s house he was sure she would be gone. Sure the man got a better offer and broke his word. Sure that this was too good for some kid like him. When he turned the corner and saw her waiting for him, saw the glimmer of sunlight on the hood wink, he realized he could breath again.

The sale took less time than he would have imagined. The man said he would hold the car while the kid took care of the paperwork and for once the registry opened up in front of him. It was as though this car was magic and made the lines dissolve. An hour later and she was wholly, legally his.

The man chuckled as the shook hands. “Kid, what are you gonna do with two cars and one driver?” He froze. He’d forgotten about his mother’s car. “Tell you what,” the man said, “Let me take her out for a last drive and I’ll follow you home. Then you can bring me back here.”

As quick as it takes to tell about it, it was done. The car was in his driveway, looking like it had always been there.

His parents were home by now and came out to see what the fuss was about. His mother said, “What is that racket?” while his father walked around her, then said, “I had one kind of like this when I was your age. She looks to be in good shape, son.”

His mother started fussing, the way she always did when he left his socks out or when she wanted him to go to college. Where would he keep it in the winter? Could he afford the insurance? Wasn’t this a waste of money when he was supposed to be saving his money for other things? Wouldn’t the noise wake the neighbors? Would it leave oil stains on the driveway? He was starting to feel utterly eroded and about to burst out in screams when his father intervened. Finally.

“Leave the boy alone. He earned the money fair and square. Everyone needs to start somewhere and I don’t think a car is a bad place to begin. Let’s go inside, dinner is getting cold. He’ll figure it out, just like we did.” It was as though the warmth of his hand on her shoulder said far more than his words. Her mouth shut and she stopped worrying her fingers. “Well, son,” she said, “I hope it’s worth it. Dinner’s in the oven when you come home.”

And then, oh god, he was free! Before the screen door banged shut behind them he was back in the driver’s seat, pumping the gas pedal and feeling her purr underneath him. He had nowhere and everywhere to go, it was time to show the world who he could become with the right set of wheels. This car, this 1969 Camaro would help him finally, utterly, know what he was doing with his life.

Except all he could really think to do was drive up Main St, calm and cool as could be, and wave to the guys he knew, as though he’d always been driving this car. He loved seeing the flash of envy and greed in their faces as he cruised by. They’d never looked at him like that before. This was just the beginning.

And speaking of which, it was almost the beginning of his shift. He eased her around the block and headed toward the Quikie Lube, enjoying every moment of his drive. The smooth slide of the steering wheel under his hands. The sweet musty smell of the decaying foam seats. The rumble in his back answering the tempo of the engine. Everything about this car told him that she was his.

By the time he arrived at work he was as relaxed and as happy as he had ever been. He wondered if this was what being in love felt like, since this feeling was nothing like what he’d felt for any of the girls he’d dated. This was something deep inside of him.

He pulled the car into the employee spot behind the Quikie Lube. The growl of the engine lured the other mechanics out and they clustered around the car, running their fingers over the smooth lines of the body, asking him where he got her, could they see the engine, telling him what a lucky bastard he was. He smiled. He already knew.

Work was like a dream. Down in the pit he watched car after car drive into place, nervous owners carefully navigating to make sure they didn’t fall into the drop. He opened crankcase after crankcase and watched the thick, dirty old ribbon down into the disposal tanks. Usually his mind would wander and he’d find himself far away from his work, but today everything had a crystalline clarity to it. He saw the wear on the undercarriage of each car, heard the conversations up above, smelled the difference between old oil and new. Usually his back and arms would start to hurt, but today his body seemed to treat the work as a dance. He greeted each new vehicle as a new partner, each motion in the oil change as part of an elaborate ritual with formal implications and subtle meaning, as though it were a courtship he’d never before considered. Usually he couldn’t wait to go home, although home had little to recommend it, but today he was content to let the rhythm of the day play out, knowing that something spectacular awaited him at day’s end.

Before he knew it he was wiping down his wrenches and hose. The workday was over and it was time to go driving.

The door unlocked with a snick and the seat sighed under him as he settled in. The key seemed magnetically drawn to the ignition and the engine roared to life almost before he cranked it. He slide out of the lot and took off, gradually picking up speed as he turned from side road to main street. With his arm resting on the windowsill, his hand relaxed on the wheel and the wind in his face, he knew he looked good. Girls looked up as he growled by. His friends, and even his old enemies from  school, turned to see who it was driving this beauty of a car. He slowed down to let them see. It didn’t matter that the old AM radio didn’t work. It didn’t matter that the gastank would drink his entire paycheck. All that mattered was this moment. He was 19 and in the car of his dreams.

He coasted from road to road, enjoying the moment. Idling at a traffic light he realized he hadn’t even opened the glove box yet, who knew what treasures were in there? The owner’s manual? Service records? Even an old pair of gloves? One foot on the brake, the other precarious on the clutch, he leaned over and punched the glove box button. As soon as it popped open smoke began to pour into the car - thick, black, oily. It blinded him as soon as it touched his face and he began to cough. Barely able to see he drove to the side of the road, turned the car off and jumped out.

“Shit! Shit!” He threw the hood open and looked for flames or smoke, anything to tell him why his new baby was vomiting up smoke. Nothing. The engine gazed up at him, ticking itself cool. He dropped to the ground and looked underneath. Nothing. The brakes weren’t in flames, no stream of oil, no telltale glow on the pavement. He slowly stood up and brushed off his jeans, closed the hood and sat with a thump back in the driver’s seat.

He didn’t notice her until she spoke.

“Well? What will it be?”

He stifled a yell as he arched away from the passenger seat occupied by a woman who seemed to not much older than he was.

“What? Who – How did you get here?”

She ignored him, looking instead outside through the windshield. “Come on, what’ll it be. I don’t have all night.”

He looked around. No one was near by, no tell tale gleam of a camera.

“Lady, I don’t know what you mean. How did you get in my car? If you’re, you know, selling stuff, I don’t want any. I just stopped ‘cause my car was acting weird.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes with the grace of a 15 year old, then pivoted around to face him.

“Look, kid, are you slow or what? You don’t look that dumb. You opened the glove box so here I am. You must know the drill, I’m sure you’ve watched television at some point in your life. Three wishes? Get it? So what do you want? Don’t you think I have better things to do that just sit here waiting for you?”

She stared at him while he gaped. He couldn’t believe what she was saying, this was ridiculous. What she was suggesting was something out of a fairy tale, some kind of myth or something. These things just don’t happen. And if they did happen they certainly wouldn’t happen to him.

“Look, lady, just get out of my car and we’ll forget all of this. Do you want money? I think I have maybe seven dollars.”

She sighed, puffing her hair out of her face.

“How many times do I have to say this? Three wishes. Let’s get this over with, okay?”

He was quiet. Wishes. Hell, he didn’t know what he wanted for breakfast, let alone how to use a wish. And she just wouldn’t shut up, this was making him feel like an idiot, considering this was just some kind of stupid prank.

“Alright lady, you know what I want, I want you to just go away. That’s my wish.”

“Okay kid, if that’s what you want…” And like that, like a snap of the fingers or a crack of a bone, she was gone. The door to the Camaro never opened, she didn’t fade into nothing, she just vanished.


After what couldn’t have been as long as it felt, he turned the car back on. It started without a hiccup, the engine rolling into life as readily as it ticked into silence. He drove home, trying not to think about what just happened. Some things you need to not think about for a while.

But sometimes they haunt you anyway, whether or not you want them to. He just couldn’t stop thinking about it, about her, about wishes. He got up every day and went to work, every day drove his car. And every day he wondered, “What do I want?”
To be continued next week...

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer
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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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